25 Years Bold: A WFA Timeline

A snapshot of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas’ groundbreaking history.



“Top 100 Women in Arkansas” list is published by Arkansas Business. Featuring women leaders in various sectors of the economy including health care, government and nonprofits, the magazine is sent to executive leaders in Arkansas with the goal of seeing more women serve on boards and in leadership roles.



The Top 100 Women in Arkansas gather for a luncheon hosted by Arkansas Business where they decide to work collectively to make a difference for women and girls across the state. The focus is education, specifically preparation for careers that require a background in mathematics, the sciences and computer technology.

The idea to establish a “Women’s Foundation” is proposed by Arkansas Business Publishing Group CEO Olivia Farrell, Arkansas Community Foundation CEO Pat Lile, ACF Board Chair Mary Gay Shipley and ACF Vice President Karen Potts.


Oct. 20, 1998

The “Launch Luncheon” (featuring a purse-themed invitation) is hosted for 125 women on the grounds of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. 

One hundred women are asked to donate $1,000 to become a founder of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. Soon after, a $100,000 endowment is created at the Arkansas Community Foundation, establishing the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas.



A volunteer board of directors is created. From the original founders, 39 women commit as board members and Jane Saunders McMullin is elected as the first board chair. The focus is grantmaking to improve the lives of women and girls, and challenging women to be philanthropists to fund this work.


Jan. 27, 2000

WFA hosts the First Annual Awards Luncheon at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion where it announces the launch of its signature program, Girls of Promise, to give Arkansas girls the opportunity to meet one another, attend workshops on STEM topics led by successful women in those fields and to hear an accomplished keynote speaker. 


Oct. 12, 2000

WFA renames its annual luncheon “Power of the Purse” and commits to honoring one or more outstanding Arkansas women and their impact on the state each year.



WFA is granted 501(c)(3) status as an independent nonprofit organization. 

WFA hires its first staff member, a part-time executive director.



The Girls of Promise Conference expands statewide, hosting STEM events for eighth grade girls at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Mountain Home and northwest Arkansas are added in later years.



WFA hires its first full-time executive director.



The position of Arkansas First Lady is added as a WFA board member with Ginger Beebe the first to fill the role.

WFA launches a new fundraising event: Designing Women, a fashionable evening of women empowering women.



The Brownie Ledbetter Civic Engagement Award is created to honor the life and work of WFA founder Mary Brown (Brownie) Williams Ledbetter. The award is to be bestowed when a woman distinguishes herself above all others within the state through exemplary participation in the building and strengthening of her community.



WFA launches the Gender Equity Scorecard as a tool to help Arkansas businesses evaluate and improve gender equity in the workplace.



WFA launches Save10, a movement to educate women on saving for retirement, building an emergency fund and paying down debt.

The inaugural Olivia Farrell Gender Equity Leadership Award is presented at the Arkansas Business of the Year Awards to the highest-scoring company that completed the Gender Equity Scorecard.



WFA creates the Dr. Mary Lowe Good Legacy Scholarship, named for a founder who spent her life advocating for women in STEM, to be awarded to a high school senior girl involved in the EAST program with a desire to enter a STEM career. 



WFA launches two new signature programs: the Women’s Economic Mobility (WEM) Hub supporting Black women-owned businesses through technical assistance, access to financial and social capital and improving the ecosystem of entrepreneurial support; and the Tjuana Byrd Summer Internship Program, an opportunity for college-aged women of color pursuing careers in STEAM fields to complete a paid summer internship with leading Arkansas companies. 



In response to a request by WFA, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson creates the Arkansas Women’s Commission to research and report on the role of Arkansas women in the labor market and economy. WFA provides logistical support and funding for the commission’s report, the first of its kind in 50 years.



WFA celebrates “25 Years Bold.” In its history, WFA has granted $932,082 in support of women and girls across the state. WFA now has five full-time staff members and an annual operating budget of $1.5 million.   


Published Research

Over the past decade, the WFA has been instrumental in researching and producing reports not only to direct its own focus and initiatives, but to share its findings on the condition of the state’s women with the public.

2013 • “1973/2013: A Then and Now Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Arkansas” Read it here.

2016 • “Changing the Story: Blueprint for Change” detailing plans to improve the status of women and girls in the areas of health, education, economics, workforce, politics and leadership. Read it here.

2018 • “Economic Indicators for Women in Arkansas: State, Region and County” Read it here.

2020  “Women of Color Business Owners and Entrepreneurs in Arkansas” Read it here.

2022  “Report of the 2022 Arkansas  Women’s Commission: Analyzing the Role of Arkansas Women in the  Labor Market and Economy” Read it here.

Learn more about the foundation’s history and research on the WFA website.

A Women’s Foundation of Arkansas Initiative

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